Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Matt Ryan. All three are model franchise quarterbacks, bringing stability, consistency, and a high level of play to their respective teams. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brock Osweiler, and Blaine Gabbert … well, they don’t really fit into that same category.
Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson — who is helming a team that definitely belongs on this list — recognizes the difficulty involved with finding that type of player.
“There’s not Peyton Manning and Tom Brady walking around all the time,” Jackson said, via Joe Reedy of the Associated Press. “I think every quarterback has to be coached and put in an environment so that he can be successful and be good. There are a lot of guys — you just look at the history in the National Football League — that some things didn’t go right, whatever those things are.”
A franchise quarterback is a luxury that not all NFL teams possess, and when things don’t go right, it can impede a team’s success for years and years.
There are a few teams that stand out as having the absolute worst quarterback situations in the NFL, and we’re here to rank them for you.
5 – Los Angeles Rams
Look, maybe Jared Goff is the franchise quarterback of the future in Los Angeles, and the Rams certainly hope so, considering what they gave up to select him first overall in last year’s draft. But he sure didn’t inspire confidence in 2016, riding the bench until Week 11 despite Case Keenum throwing nine touchdown passes against 11 interceptions up to that point.
But the Rams haven’t had one quarterback start an entire season since Sam Bradford was healthy enough to do so in 2012. Since then, the Rams have featured dynamos such as Kellen Clemens, Austin Davis and Shaun Hill behind center.
And let’s not forget the failed Nick Foles experiment. Foles was traded from the Eagles to the then-St. Louis Rams in exchange for Bradford with the expectation that Foles would stabilize the offense. Instead, he got benched for Case Keenum in Week 11. Foles got the starting job back briefly while Keenum recovered from a concussion, but lost it again as soon as Keenum was healthy. Then Foles asked the Rams to release him, and they obliged.
The Rams come in at No. 5 on the list because there’s reason to hope Goff can live up to his draft status and develop into a franchise quarterback (although he’d be the first-ever Air Raid quarterback to find sustained success in the NFL).
Still, the recent quarterback history is so bleak that we cannot in good conscience exclude them.
Last franchise quarterback: Marc Bulger, who played well enough to become the highest-paid player in team history in 2007 and then completely and promptly fell apart.
4 – San Francisco 49ers
Remember when Colin Kaepernick led the Niners to a Super Bowl back in 2012, and then back to the NFC Championship in 2013? Those days are long gone.
Last season was an amalgam of bad quarterback play from both Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert. The 49ers finished the season dead last in the league for passing offense, averaging just 181.9 yards per game. San Francisco ended up with two wins all season to show for it.
The 49ers haven’t had the benefit of quality quarterback play for a while, and they’re about to have no quarterbacks on the roster. Kaepernick is expected to opt out of his deal with the Niners and become a free agent in March. Gabbert is set to become an unrestricted free agent with the start of the new league year, also. The Niners have Christian Ponder and Thad Lewis, an undrafted free agent out of Duke, on the roster right now, too. They’re both set to hit free agency.
New head coach Kyle Shanahan has his work cut out for him, and priority one has to be finding a capable franchise quarterback.
Last franchise quarterback: Jeff Garcia was a consistent starter over his five seasons in San Francisco, but I would go a bit farther back in Niners history based on the team’s 35-36 record with Garcia. Steve Young, who last played for the Niners in 1998, is the most recent guy.
3 – Houston Texans
This is the saddest entry on this list, because the Texans paid a pretty penny for Brock Osweiler last offseason in hopes that he would become the franchise quarterback this team so desperately needs.
The Texans have a dominant defense, and that’s how Houston has managed to make the playoffs in each of the past two seasons with a carousel of ineptitude at quarterback. In 2015, Houston won its division by virtue of the division being the AFC South, despite the fact that they had to work with Brian Hoyer, T.J. Yates, Brandon Weeden, and even B.J. Daniels behind center for a couple of snaps.
Last season, the Texans thought they’d addressed the problem, bringing in Osweiler on a four-year, $72 million contract with $37 million guaranteed. Unfortunately, Osweiler didn’t play like a franchise quarterback and ended up being benched late in the season for Tom Savage. Now the Texans have a decision to make on Osweiler’s future, but cutting him carries $25 million in dead money. It’s a sticky situation.
Last franchise quarterback: Because the Texans are such a young franchise, there are really only three quarterback eras in team history — David Carr, Matt Schaub, and then this mess that started with Ryan Fitzpatrick. Schaub was actually pretty consistent and pretty good for the most part, when he was healthy, from 2007 through 2013.
2 – New York Jets
Speaking of Fitzpatrick, that era is over in New York, and now that it’s behind us, we can look back and affirm that he was never really a franchise quarterback. But the Jets’ struggles to secure a quality quarterback go way back at least to 2009, when they selected Mark Sanchez with the fifth overall pick in the draft.
The first couple of seasons with Sanchez resulted in AFC Championship bids, but largely due to a stellar offensive line and the strength of the defense. His decline began in 2011, and he brought us delightful moments like the Buttfumble in 2012, and the Jets really haven’t recovered.
Since the Jets moved on from Sanchez, they’ve had their own little quarterback carousel. From Geno Smith to Michael Vick, and then on to Ryan Fitzpatrick, then back to Smith, and then to Bryce Petty, there’s no consistency at the position, and it’s something New York will try to remedy this offseason.
Last franchise quarterback: You know who it wasn’t? Brett Favre, who landed with the Jets for just one season after his initial retirement from the Green Bay Packers back in 2008. Rotator cuff injuries kept Chad Pennington from ever being better than lackluster. Since the Joe Namath days, Vinny Testaverde has been the best quarterback in New York, and he last played for the Jets in 2005.
1 – Cleveland Browns
Look, there are teams with uncertainty at the quarterback position, and then there are the Cleveland Browns, a team that has started 28 different quarterbacks since drafting Tim Couch first overall in 1999.
Ah, 1999 — those heady days when the Browns were a brand new team in Cleveland, replacing the franchise that had departed a few years earlier for Baltimore. The optimism that must have accompanied that pick, which didn’t work out for Cleveland long-term, thanks primarily to injuries for Couch.
Since then, it’s been a revolving door at quarterback, with the Browns averaging 1.65 starting quarterbacks per year since the 1999 season. Cleveland has spent first-round picks on Couch, Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and — oh, dear — Johnny Manziel.
Needless to say, none of those options, nor any of the other 24 quarterbacks who have started games for the Browns over the past 17 seasons, have developed into franchise quarterbacks. Better luck this year, Browns.
Last franchise quarterback: With this iteration of the Browns, there legitimately hasn’t been one. You have to go back to the days before Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore to become the Ravens, to find a franchise quarterback. Cleveland had a pretty good stretch from 1986 to 1995 between Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde, and then, of course, the team moved to Baltimore. Classic Browns.
The good news for the Browns or any other team looking for help at the position is that there are some reasonably decent options likely to be available in free agency. None of them measure up to “franchise” status, but some of them are at least better than Ryan Fitzpatrick.